Tarsipedidaehoney possum

The marsupial family Tarsipedidae contains a single species, the honey possum or noolbender ( Tarsipes rostratus). Honey possums are found in southwestern Australia, where they are still common in some areas.

These animals are small (7-12 gm) and have a long pointed snout, slender dentary and zygomatic arch, and unusually poorly developed chewing muscles. The tail is long and fully prehensile. Like other members of the order Diprotodontia, they are syndactylous and diprotodont. Their syndactylous toes (hind toes 2 and 3) are unusual in that they have nails, not claws, at the ends. All toes except the syndactylous pair end in expanded pads. The teeth are small in size and reduced in number; the dental formula is 2/1, 1/0, cheekteeth 3/3 (usually). The cheekteeth are small, peglike, and variable in number.

Honey possums feed largely on nectar. They have no cecum, but their stomach has a large diverticulum. This structure apparently serves for storage, not bacterial digestion. The elongated tongue has a cluster of bristles at the tip. The development of the tongue and reduced dentition are reminiscent of the nectar feeding bats in the family Phyllostomidae. Like these bats, honey possums feed by probing flowers with their tongues.

Honey possums are important pollinators for some species of plants.

Literature and references cited

Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy. Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. WCB McGraw-Hill, Boston. xii+563pp.

Marshall, L. G. 1984. Monotremes and marsupials. Pp 59-115 in Anderson, S. and J. Knox Jones, eds, Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, NY. xii+686 pp.

Strahan, R. (ed.). 1995. Mammals of Australia. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 756 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth. vi+576 pp.

Vaughan, T. A., J. M. Ryan, N. J. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy. Fourth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia. vii+565pp.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.


Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate